Spectrum groups urge lawmakers to prevent ‘private auction’ of C-Band

rural area
The groups are urging lawmakers to use auction proceeds to pay for broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. (Pixabay)

More than 20 entities signed off on a letter to Congressional leaders today calling on lawmakers to ensure the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t allow for a private auction of C-Band spectrum to the benefit of four foreign satellite operators.

New America’s Open Technology Institute, the American Library Association, the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA), the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition and others sent the letter (PDF) to lawmakers saying the C-Band offers Congress “a unique opportunity."

That opportunity involves directing $10 billion or more in auction revenue to pay for broadband infrastructure in underserved areas and to authorize the use of spectrum in that band for high-capacity fixed wireless service in rural and less densely populated areas on a shared basis, according to the coalitions. 

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The letter urges Congress to direct the FCC to conduct a public auction, to designate the expected $10 billion to $30 billion in revenue to close the rural and low-income broadband divide, and to direct the FCC to authorize shared access to the unused C-band spectrum needed to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas. Identical letters are addressed to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Commerce Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The FCC lacks legal authority to allow a private auction and windfall to satellite companies that never paid for spectrum,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a press release. “This gives Congress an opportunity to mandate both a public auction and coordinated shared access to unused spectrum in the C-band, which together can provide billions in funding for infrastructure and the spectrum that rural broadband providers, schools, and other enterprises need to close the connectivity gap in underserved areas.”

RELATED: Satellite operators defend plan for C-Band

The C-Band continues to present complex issues for the FCC and industry to hash out.

The C-Band Alliance (CBA), which is composed of Intelsat, SES, Telesat and Eutelsat, proposed to voluntarily relinquish some spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, but it’s not enough to satisfy all the parties interested in using it for 5G. The CBA says its plan is the most efficient and fastest way to get spectrum into the hands of 5G operators, but critics say it’s susceptible to litigation and further delays.

In a filing (PDF) last week, the CBA reiterated that its members have invested billions of dollars in the infrastructure and systems necessary to provide C-Band service, which is relied upon by nearly 120 million American households that receive programming content over the spectrum. They said the compensation the C-Band Alliance would receive from terrestrial mobile operators for voluntarily forfeiting interference protection rights would be used to cover repacking costs and to ensure uninterrupted service for satellite operators and their customers.

“Any effort to have the FCC reclaim C-band spectrum without the consent of the C-Band Alliance would run headlong into statutory and constitutional limits on the agency’s authority,” the CBA told the commission.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told attendees at a 5G workshop in Argentina last week that the FCC is working on “the complicated task” of freeing up spectrum for 5G in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, and he’s optimistic that they will have “results to show on this front this fall.”

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